Saturday, June 12, 2021

Weekend Post


Here’s one of those questions worthy of a Weekend Post.

It’s from Nancy Knechtel:

You have captured the history of the studios you have worked at so well - Did you ever find out who occupied your offices at the studios in the past? Rumor has it that some writers have worked in Shirley Temple's old dressing room bungalow at Fox. Were your offices old dressing rooms or writers buildings? Any great writers occupy your space before you?

For history you can’t beat the Fox lot on Pico. I never had an office in the building that was Shirley Temple’s dressing room, but I was in it frequently since at one time it served as the headquarters for THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW and my partner David and I wrote several episodes.  Shirley had nice digs for a six-year-old. 

But for years on MASH and AfterMASH David and I had offices in the Old Writers Building (back before we were old writers). It’s a gorgeous Swiss chalet, and to this day it was my favorite office.

You’ve seen it in many movies and TV shows. BABES IN TOYLAND with Laurel & Hardy for one. Could you ask for better ghosts when trying to create comedy than Stan & Ollie?

They were always filming CHARLIE’S ANGELS and STARSKY & HUTCH outside our office. It was always fun to look out the window and see either Jackie Smith in a tight jumpsuit or a drug dealer being gunned down in a hail of bullets.

In our time there we had three offices. The first was supposedly once F. Scott Fitzgerald’s. We found a few of Zelda’s empty gin bottles behind the couch so we have confirmation.

More impressive to me was when we became head writers of MASH and moved into Larry Gelbart’s old office. That was like having Babe Ruth’s locker.

We used that as our main writers room and one afternoon I noticed several people in the nearby apartment building looking in at us. I didn’t think four guys sitting around a table writing a Radar speech was much of a show but who knows? Later I learned that the Hello Dolly New York set was on fire across the lot. That’s what the apartment dwellers were looking at. Now I feel like an schmuck for waving at them.

Both of those offices were on the second floor. For AfterMASH we took over the entire first floor. Larry Gelbart didn’t have an office but we said whenever he was there he could use ours. The only thing better than having Larry Gelbart’s old office was actually SHARING an office with Larry Gelbart. Babe Ruth using your locker.

Back in the MASH days we parked behind the building and the old Western town from BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID was still up. My spot was right in front of the saloon (which explains why I was often late).

For several years we had a development deal at Fox and this was our office. Since it fronts a street it is always used as a location. I’ve seen it at least two dozen times on shows. And I’m always yelling, “Hey, get the fuck out of my office!”


Greg Ehrbar said...

Back when Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida was the Disney-MGM Studios, it was a working studio as well as a theme park. Thousands of guests passed along corridors and looked through big picture windows all day long to watch animators making films like Mulan and Roller Coaster Rabbit. If they were in the Post Production facility, they might see me and my fellow writers and producers working on edit and sound mixing. On the guest side, they could see videos with people like Goldie Hawn and George Lucas explain the facilities, which were constructed so that, through the windows, they could deep into the rooms far in the distance. Basically, all they saw us do was talk and eat snacks, and of course, they weren't still there at 4am when the park was closed and we were still working.

Each group of park guests filed into the glass corridor for the same length of time. So occasionally what I liked to do, just to remind them that we were not Animatronics, was to wait until the moment just before they were leaving the corridor and we would all stop what we were doing, turn to the crowd, smile and wave. They would be startled and wave back. It all seems strange, and it was, but you got used to it the whole thing and it was really an great facility.

Liggie said...

I fondly remember "The Tracey Ullman Show". Talented cast, funny sketches, Ullman is a master with accents while still maintaining character. If music rights weren't an issue, I wouldn't mind seeing it on DVD or the rerun channels.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Thank you for the history lesson, Ken! And thank you, Nancy, for the question. This was one of the most original FQs in a long time.

DBenson said...

Actually, Laurel and Hardy came to the Fox lot in 1941 and shot six features there -- not especially beloved by modern fans (Stan Laurel himself hated them), but they were moneymakers upon release, welcome comfort food for wartime audiences. And modern reappraisals have been kinder, even if they're still branded as lesser L&H.

"Babes in Toyland" was back in '34 and shot on soundstage sets. If the boys shot near your building, chances are it was dressed as something other than a Swiss Chalet.

sanford said...

I saw this article in the NYT today. Any comments?

ScottyB said...

Hi @kenlevine. Here's a question for you: What are your favorite TV show opening theme songs? They're basically nonexistent now, but they were their show's indelible stamps back in the day. (The "Quantum Leap" theme might even qualify for the Guiness Book's longest theme song entry.)

ScottyB said...

@GregEhrbar said >> Basically, all they saw us do was talk and eat snacks <<

Which launched a mess of kids who thought you had the coolest job in the world and wanted to have a job just like that. How many roads to ruin do you figure were launched from that display?

Unknown said...

Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry had or still has big picture windows like that, where you could watch peoples working on dinosaur bones. It was incredibly boring, but I figure it was one helluva recruitment tool. I always pictured the management kidnapping any kid who watched the bone cleaners for more than 2 minutes and turning them into junior paleontologists.

Brian said...

I second what Liggie says, but it is sadly getting harder and harder to see this happen for a show that:

- Has argued over the Simpsons clips
- Has boatloads of music and, therefore, clearances to be dealt with
- Is over thirty years old.

Having said that, viva the "skitcom" (James L. Brooks' term?) that proved that the woman that sang, "Tney Don't Know" did more than sing!

FRIDAY QUESTION: Were there any sets that were logistically challenging? I'm not speaking about difficult actor, just sets.

Honest Ed said...

The Shirley Temple house on the Fox lot was also where the writers room for Homeland was based.

Greg Ehrbar said...

@Scotty B
I guess it depends on the snacks?

ScarletNumber said...

You accidentally put Joel's question in black instead of in blue.